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Archive for the 'Career' Category

Inexperienced student editors learn from each other, the job itself

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

Often in student media, at least the ones I worked at during college, the staff is thrown into their position and told, basically, to build wings on the way down. Most active student media types I knew held a half-dozen or more positions within the span of four years of undergrad work. Often, you’re unprepared and have only your gut, your slightly more experienced peers who were in your shoes a semester or two ago, and your desire to do good journalism going for you. Oh, and then there’s the “every mistake you make will be printed for your entire campus to read and call you on” factor — so you better not screw up. Even though we adamantly professed and considered ourselves to be (and expected to be treated as) professional journalists, the truth is, we were inexperienced and clumsy at times.

Hilary Lehman is the managing editor for print at the University of Florida student paper, The Independent Alligator. She’s in the position I described above. And she’s smartly decided to chronicle her experience in a blog in hopes of sharing it with and learning from the other hundreds of college newspaper editors like herself.

Our student media director used to describe what we did as “publishing our homework.” Sometimes, we really were. After we submitted articles to the paper, reporters in some classes would submit them for the professor’s take on the work (often with a much more critical eye than our student editors). But unlike many majors, where the models they produced or papers they turned in were graded and returned without anyone else ever seeing them, we were also doing a job. A highly visible job. Though our “homework” was designed to teach us, it was also a real product that came with real responsibility. When our teammates didn’t hold up their end of an assignment, we didn’t just get a bad grade, we had a hole to fill in the paper. When someone slacked off or turned in a sloppy assignment, it might cost us a correction and some credibility.

Our newspaper switched jobs (well the staff turned over and most people switched jobs) once per semester. Every four months, you had to learn a new job. The benefit was you get to try your hand at a lot of different aspects of journalism. The drawback was you never truly mastered any.

I was the managing editor (no. 2 in charge) of the Kent Stater‘s summer edition as a sophomore, after just two semesters on staff. Fortunately for my own development, I was able to step back after that semester with what I learned and take a few more semesters to work as a reporter and mid-level editor before becoming No. 1 in charge. I started on what I expected to be the least time-consuming job, at the bottom proofing pages, and hit most news reporting/editing roles between. I finished as the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, responsible ultimately for more than 100 people. That’s an insane amount of power to give a 20-year-old with one internship and two years in student media.

After I had been at my first real job even just a few months I remember thinking, “My God, why didn’t we think of doing it this way? How come no one told me!” If I knew then what I know now, that paper would have been 10,000 times more organized and productive. But it wasn’t. And that’s OK. The great thing about putting out a college paper is you don’t know and you don’t have to abide by all the rules of the professional news biz. So when I wanted to restructure my top editor positions to give the AME/Web more power, no one was there to say I couldn’t or that’s not how it’s done. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of how it should be done. More college papers should exploit that to think outside the box. I wish I had done so more than I did when I had a chance.

The flip-side to that and what you lose with the quick staff turnover, however, is institutional memory. I remember making mistakes that decades of other students had made before me, and I’ve since seen people make mistakes I made. But, to be honest, I learned a lot from those mistakes, and being able to make them on a smaller playing field went a long way in preparing me for my job today.

All that said, as much as I really enjoyed being the editor at my paper, the biggest thing I learned was totally unexpected. I felt like I was too far away from the story, the daily journalism. Maybe it was that we had several layers of editors between the top and the reporters on the ground, but I felt as EIC I spent too much time worrying about keeping photographers within the budget, working with advertising/compo to get enough space for our special packages, and putting out fires among the staff and sometimes the community. That definitely wasn’t why I got into this. Some people might relish the power and prestige, but I missed the journalism. That was a powerful lesson to learn and one I’m glad I learned early on before I was shuttled into management in my career.

My editor today often comments that some day I’ll be in his position. I usually comeback, “God, I hope not.” I admire what he does, but at this point, not only do I not want it, I’d be bad at it. I chose this job and to start where I am because I believe you need a strong foundation. Maybe in a decade, my editor’s position will be exactly where I feel my strengths are suited and where I can make the biggest impact. Today, though I think I did a fair enough job when I was a student editor, I am enjoying my time as a reporter. Yes, I have less power to change the institution, my opinion on what to cover or not cover carries less weight and sometimes I have to accept doing something I’d rather not on the terms of “because I said so” from above. But with my undergrad crash course in newspaper roles behind me, I don’t think an editorship is in my immediate future. I’ll be the first to admit, I have a lot to learn. At 23, I have plenty of time to learn it.

‘I guess that means I’m doing my job right’

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

I am working on a package to run later this week about a retiring administrator who has served here for nearly two decades. In perspective: He’s been superintendent since before I entered kindergarten.

So, I’ve spent the past week or so trying to squeeze in interviews about his impact on the district, which is different in nearly every way today than it was two decades ago.

After I sat down for an extended interview with him last week, I thanked him for his time. I also thanked him for helping show me the ropes of the education beat.

As I noted on one of Kate Martin’s posts about a recent survey of education reporters (to which I actually responded), I am very indebted to some patient superintendents and assistant superintendents who were never too busy to field my dumb questions. Part of it was my willingness to be a beginner and to sit down with the numbers, meet with the people impacted and to go through the old clippings to understand the context. But my beat knowledge of everything from remonstrances to school budgets to contract bargaining comes from on-the-job, need-to-know experience. It came from learning to ask the right questions of the right people.

That’s why I was, I guess the word is honored, when after I thanked the outgoing leader not just for taking the time to sit for my interview, but for his help getting me acquainted with this beat, he made this comment to me: “I always tell (the other administrators) that Meranda has the ability to ask the exact question you do not want to answer.”

I replied, “I guess that means I’m doing my job right.”

And it does. Though I’m not drawn to and would prefer to avoid conflict, I’ve also learned in my reporting experience when to press harder and how to read clues that lead me to those questions they’d rather not answer.

I never thought I’d like the education beat. Honestly, I remember before I interviewed for my job here, I was telling one of my professors about the positions open (county and education) and how I’d probably never want to cover education. I thank GOD we had that conversation. Because she sat me down and explained to me how education touches everything and why it is so vital. As a result, when I interviewed and they asked my preferred beat, it was education I asked for. Looking around at my fellow reporters today, I can say with some conviction that there honestly isn’t another beat at my paper I’d rather cover.

I’m also excited because in a year and a half since starting here, not only do I feel that I’ve done a lot to enhance the depth and scope of our education coverage in the community, but I have also grown so much as a reporter. I am able to find and execute stories today that a year ago I’d never have seen or, if I had, attempted. I love that. I can look back a few months ago even and see things I’d do differently. Though it makes me wish I’d had the insight then, I don’t see this as a bad thing. It means I’m growing — and it means the best stories are yet to come.

Poynter’s pointers on managing intern/reporter blogs

Monday, May 5th, 2008

There’s a quick read about how to handle intern or reporters blogs at Poynter’s Every Day Ethics column from Thursday.

The cliff notes version of the entry is this: have a policy, make it known and don’t make it “no blogs.”

As a proponent of journalists blogging and a member of a newsroom with a pretty loose policy (which I think has a lot to do with my editors’ comfort with the technology: the publisher, executive editor & managing editor all blog themselves for the Web site), I think all the suggestions about the policies in the column are reasonable:

  • Write one. Maybe start a blog about policies. But do it now. It’s way too late to claim that blogging is just too new of a phenomenon to merit a policy.

  • Reconsider your policy if it states: No personal blogs. Telling a 20-year-old he can’t blog is like telling a 50-year-old she can’t write a holiday letter. You won’t win that one.
  • Consider what you’re comfortable having employees discuss in public:
    • Nothing about the newsroom at all? That might be unrealistic.
    • Nothing about stories in development? That seems fair.
    • Nothing that puts the company in a negative light? Sure, you’ve got a right to require that, but you might define negative carefully.
    • Nothing about sources? Good idea. Journalists who say things about their sources that they wouldn’t put into their stories are treading in dangerous territory.
    • Nothing embarrassing or negative about your colleagues.
  • I counsel journalists who keep personal blogs to employ a no-surprises rule. Always let your boss know if you have a blog. Ask for guidelines, if they don’t exist. Never say anything in the blog that you wouldn’t say out loud, to the primary stakeholders.
  • I agree most with the items I underlined in those suggestions.

    The first made me laugh, but it’s true. Don’t say I can’t do it, but do set guidelines for me to follow. If you don’t set guidelines, don’t blame me if down the road you’re upset.

    But by the same token, the ultimate responsibility is NOT on the editors to foresee every instance that could need guidance. They have better more important things to do than micro-manage their employees personal time. So if you want to blog, you need to be reasonable and responsible. Never, never, never post anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable defending. Assume Google will archive it. Assume it will be the top hit someone (like your boss or your sources) sees when they Google you down the road. Would you be comfortable standing behind it? If not, don’t say it. If you’re not sure, wait a day. You can’t always take it back.

    When they first heard I had a blog, some of the other reporters and editors told me a story about a group of former interns who had kept blogs that they thought no one read. They were honest, uninhibited. Turns out, the whole newsroom was reading. Assume this will be the case. Think about your reasons for wanting to hide it. Then, think about my last paragraph and find a way to reconcile those differences.

    That goes along with the “ask for guidelines” approach. Although I’d already started the blog when I started my job, I wasn’t sure what if any policy my paper had. I approached the editor about it. Later on, when someone in corporate came across the blog and included a reference in a corporate media strategy blog, she wasn’t caught off-guard by the existence or content of this site. She thought it was cool I got the mention. If she didn’t know about the site, I don’t think she’d have been so happy for me.

    The tagline version of my point is this: As with most things in life, blog responsibly.

    18 online updates and one story for Tuesday’s deadwood edition

    Monday, March 24th, 2008

    If you know Indiana, you know we’re usually fly-over territory for presidential candidates.

    That’s why, when we heard late Friday that not only was Hillary Clinton’s campaign coming to Indiana, but Lafayette was going to host her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, we became, to quote my editor describing me and another reporter, “Giddy.”

    I was in college in Ohio during the last election. So I have seen several presidential hopefuls in person. But tonight was the first time I’ve been in the same room as anyone who ever commanded this country.

    Let me say this, the experience was intense. But not because of what he said or the 3,000+ crowd in the gym, another gym and the school auditorium. It was intense because of my assignment.

    The only story I wrote for tomorrow’s paper was a look at the preparations the high school underwent and the excitement from the students. That makes sense, since I’m the education reporter and all. I headed to the school at lunch and talked to the principal and some students. I came back and wrote an online version of the story to kind of give a feel during the day of the atmosphere. Then, before 3 p.m., I’d filed that story for print and moved on.

    Today was also a big day on my beat, so I worked a little on another MAJOR story on my beat that will go online early tomorrow morning, followed with a more in-depth story for Wednesday print. The Adequate Yearly Progress results — basically, whether a school is failing or not under NCLB — were released with a 10 a.m. Tuesday embargo.

    I was also, throughout the day, talking to the campaign, the schools, etc. checking on information we were hearing and answering questions our readers asked. Lining up logistics with my editor, other reporters and photographers.

    And then, at 4 p.m., it was time to really tackle my assignment: Updates from the scene throughout the night. That was three hours before doors opened and four hours and 40 minutes before Clinton took the stage.

    All told, I sent my editor 18 updates from my laptop at the scene. I know because I counted the number of e-mails when all was said and done, and I could finally breathe.

    my updates e-mailed to my editor

    I had started them with subjects, “Clinton update #1,” “Clinton update #2,” etc. By number 11, I’d lost track. That was also about the time he actually arrived. My subjects became: Clinton arrives, clinton iraq, clinton economy, clinton education, etc.

    Some of the updates were detailed narratives, describing the crowd, the atmosphere and talking to people lined up. Some were just a short synopsis of where it stood: Police chief says Clinton left previous stop, expected by 8:30.

    I adapted my method in the middle. I wasn’t looking at jconline throughout the event, so I didn’t really know how my editor was playing what I submitted. I was trying to get my next update reported and keep the information fresh. There were a few other reporters in the crowd as the event start approached, and they were also there helping catch some color from the lines and feeding it to me to send in with my updates. By about 7:30, I just started typing them with time stamps and then jumping in with what I was hearing and what was occurring. This, as it turns out, was a pretty efficient way of writing the event backwards, much like a twitter stream.

    Actually, at the same time I was writing for and filing updates to jconline, I was also trying to post updates on Twitter. Though, obviously, my priority was on the J&C, which reaches far more people than my Twitter account. Though it was cool, and you kind of see it in my updates, I was even interacting with other people back at the J&C and also across the room from me.

    Bill Clinton event live blogging on twitter

    You can look at jconline and see, my updates were fairly regular. As Clinton began to speak — an hour and forty minutes after doors opened and the crowd started streaming in — I started to chunk the topics into five or six graph break downs. I tried to mirror that while the e-mails sent with my snappy posts on twitter. What Clinton said, a little context and any crowd reaction.

    It was difficult, as you’ll see I noted in one of the twitter updates, to both be there and not be there. I was present, but I spent a lot of time basically taking diction and then trying to make it digestible, readable updates. While stream of consciousness might work for twitter, it wouldn’t cut it for the J&C. So I was using a skill I’m not sure I’ve ever had a chance to practice: I was both listening to what he was saying in the present and writing a story live about what he had just said while monitoring the discussion for what would come next.

    I’m sure my writing wasn’t my best work — for one thing I used the word crowd entirely too often, and most of the speech updates start “Bill Clinton discussed.” But I wrote fast, and I wrote a lot. And give me some slack, I’ve never — in fact I don’t think my news organization has ever — done anything like this.

    Twitter aside, my work for J&C was half live blogging and half writing for the newspaper audience online. All my work was funneled through my editor to be posted. So there was about a five-minute delay. But considering how furiously I was filing, I am glad he was there to read over my shoulder and relay any questions or fix obvious mistakes.

    As you can see from my Gmail outbox above, a few of my updates, especially early on, included e-mail exchanges with my editor. I talked to him twice, after I sent the first update and once immediately after I sent the last one. None of those updates, by the way, will appear in tomorrow’s newspaper. Some of the reporting may in another reporter’s story, but my entire assignment/direction on this, as taken from the budget, was:

    • After school lets out: Are people lining up. Meranda
    • At 7: An updates as crowd assembles. Meranda
    • Update from the scene as Clinton speaks. Meranda

    So there was a lot of figuring it out on the fly. And you know what, like I said, it was intense. But it was awesome! It was even quite a bit of fun.

    I don’t know if every event deserves such rapid-fire updates, but this was something that was changing by the minute early on, and which had a great deal of interest in our community. It’s not every day a president drops by small-town Indiana. I’m not sure how many page views we generated today or if that even matters. I’m not sure what part my updates played in any of that, but I hope our readers who were planning to attend, did attend or couldn’t attend benefited from the pretty comprehensive look at the day the former president visited our community.

    With that said, it’s now approaching midnight. I worked from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. today coming off a 2 to 10 p.m. shift Sunday. I need to get in around 8 a.m. tomorrow to finish the AYP story for online.

    In short, though I’m pumped with all that journalism-is-alive adrenaline from my day, I’m also exhausted. I think it’s time to put the computer away and wind down from probably the most exciting day of journalism career to date.

    Don’t dismiss good journalists who don’t ‘get’ online just yet

    Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

    There’s been an awful lot of discussion of late, at least on the blogs I read, about whether you can — or should — teach journalists to be online journalists.

    In one corner, we have those saying it can’t be done and shouldn’t. In the other, they contend it can and should be attempted at least. (And on and on. Read the comments on the posts, which are as enlightening as the posts themselves.)

    Where do I stand? I’m torn. Though I find myself aligning with the cans and shoulds.

    On one hand, I am the go-getter, I-want-to-know-more-faster type. On the other, I still see a role for the reluctant journalist. I’m also an optimist. I think you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, as long as they aren’t afraid to come out and play (even if it takes a shove to get them out there in the first place.)

    Personally, just about everything I know about computers was learned by tinkering around. I taught myself HTML, CSS and everything that follows. I learned how layers work in Photoshop and how to edit audio with audacity without taking a formal class. I spent hours with my legs crossed and MacBook on my lap trying to figure out the movie editing functions the first time I used the software. The list goes on.

    When I wanted to know, I sought out the answers or solutions. The very first tag of HTML I learned was the font tag because I wanted to make my comments stand out in the then HTML-based chat room (yeah that tells you how old-school I am). Then, I learned to put up images with my chats. Then I learned about links. Then, I learned about things like body and title and how to take all those other tags I learned and work them together into a .html site. Later on, I learned about tables and frames (yes, God help me, but I was the freaking QUEEN of frames). Eventually, I stumbled on CSS. The rest is well, history.

    There are three things to note about my informal education in Web design/new media:

    1. I taught myself everything through a little bit of searching and a lot of guess and check/trial and error.

    2. Each thing I learned built upon things I had previously taught myself.
    3. I taught myself on a need to know basis.

    That last item is the most important, though many would contend the first is. When I wanted to know how to make my chat stand out, I asked around and then looked up the font tags. When frames were all the rage (and they once were, trust me I was there), I actually used the AOL homepage creator to build a site with frames and then analyzed the code to figure out how it worked and changed so I could build my own from scratch. And later, when I wanted to know how to add layers so I could provide absolute positioning on my layouts and abandon frames? I spent weeks designing the perfect site and then figuring out how to get CSS to cooperate as it was supposed to (this was before most browsers were CSS friendly).

    Everything I learned was because I reached a level where I wanted to try something new that I didn’t know how to do before, but that I knew was possible because I had seen or heard of other people doing it.

    I think the same thing can be applied to journalism, especially online journalism. You look at other awesome packages or blogs or micro-sites or whatever it is you want to do and you see how they are doing it, what you like and what you don’t. This leads you down the road to your own possibilities. The thought process follows something like this:

    They did it.
    So that means it’s possible to do. Right?
    I wonder if it would work here.
    How did they do it?
    Is that the best way or is anyone else doing it differently?
    What is the best method to achieve what we want?
    Well, that didn’t work.
    OK, that’s better.
    Still needs tweaked, but let’s go with it.
    That wasn’t so hard.
    Holy s— it worked.
    What else can we do with this?

    In short, I think what it comes down to is the same thing that makes a good journalist: You have to be curious and You have to be brave enough to follow that curiosity.

    On one hand, you have to have that inner “I want to try that” instinct, which makes you want to spend time analyzing video clips to see what works and what doesn’t, what left you in awe and what made you yawn. You have to be willing to take time to interact with different flash packages to understand how they work (or why they don’t) as a user before you ever sit down to compile your own. It’s like the writer who proclaims he isn’t a reader. It’s a waste of time. How can you be good at something when your exposure to the best of it is limited? I think you need something to aspire to and something to rise above. If that makes sense.

    On the other hand, you have to have the courage to try and fail. This is the part that I think holds back many of those “dinosaurs.” When you’ve been doing something the same way for so long, it’s scary to be a beginner. You also have more to lose. If I, one year out of college, take on a new job or task and realize “This blows” I have less to lose than if I’d wagered my whole career on taking that chance. If that also makes sense.

    I have so much yet to learn about all of these things. I’m not waiting for training, but I wouldn’t pass any up that was offered. I’m just waiting for an opportunity to teach myself.

    I am very much a part of the Web culture. Nobody taught it to me, I’m just innately interested. But I know some damn good journalists who aren’t. They’ll come around, or I think, likely self-select themselves out when they realize they aren’t swimming in the same direction. I really don’t think they need to be forced out by my generation. I think we need them now more than ever to rein us in and show us what good journalism is. And we can repay them by teaching them about blogs and twitter and del.ico.us and YouTube and RSS feeds and everything that will one day be obsolete.

    Do I think everyone is going to be as motivated as I am? Absolutely not. But their motivation might be different. Maybe they’re really hungry to dig into crime statistics or to tear through the city budget looking for extravagance? Maybe they’re a photojournalist or reporter honestly looking to report on the human condition and just tell the story of this time and place. I think those things are just as important as being willing to sit for hours trying to figure out why your video isn’t encoding properly or how to narrow down an hour long talk into a two-minute podcast. Should we likewise say to all these aspiring online journalists who would rather die than cover City Council that we have no room for you in our news organization? No. There is a place and a need for both sets. They can complement and learn from each other. And to some extent, as with my covering the education beat, they can even be one in the same. Someday, they all may be. We’re not there yet. I think that’s OK.

    There is and will always be a place in this business for those journalists who have a desire to find and tell good stories. As demands on journalists grow, in fact, they will be the only ones for whom there is room.

    But just because some of them aren’t the ones chomping at the bits to delve into new media doesn’t mean you should dismiss them as a lost cause. At least offer them the chance to prove you wrong. I’m not an advocate of forcing anything down someone’s throat. But reluctance or fear are not good enough reasons for a good journalist to be turned away. Hell, I’ve been afraid of and reluctant to do more stories than I’d like to admit. And each time I got over my fear. Each time, I became a little more confident, a little more comfortable. Should I have been fired because I wasn’t comfortable writing about a child molester? Should my boss have reassigned me when I didn’t know what to look for at my first bank robbery? The amazing thing about journalism, the thing that probably more than anything attracted me to this field, is every day is a learning experience. Why is online journalism any different? Sometimes the only way to learn is to jump in, and sometimes it takes a shove to get you to try something you end up loving. You never know if you give up on even trying.

    Lessons from year 1 (take 2): Things I don’t suck at

    Monday, January 14th, 2008

    I would like to take a moment to observe an important milestone. A year ago today, I started my job here in Lafayette and therefore my “career” in journalism. I cannot quantify how much I have learned this first year. But I can say it’s been a lot of fun.

    It’s been amazing. It was chocked full of hard work, long days and longer weeks. It’s been stressful and hectic and full of a lot of flying by the seat of my pants and on pure instinct and sometimes luck and a prayer. There were a few tears and a few times where I was sick to my stomach because of things I saw, heard or had to do. But there were other times, many more, where I laughed so hard it hurt or where a kid’s comments made me smile for hours. There were even a few moments that restored my faith in humanity.

    Beyond that, I’ve really gotten comfortable with my beat and role as a reporter. I’ve even come to love this community to my own great surprise. I made friends though I was sure I never would, and my co-workers, seriously, despite levels of stress that are supremely unnecessary at times, make the job bearable and enjoyable on those days when even luck and a prayer aren’t enough. Even if my editor’s favorite pastime is making jokes about me that start with, “Dear Blogger.” (Long story. But trust me, he’s a funny guy.)

    I’d say it was a good year. Lots left to accomplish, but many firsts out of the way.

    So I realized, even as I wrote it, that my previous “Lessons from year 1” post was a bit of a downer. I tried hard to focus on the fact that those are all things I hope to work at this coming year, but in the end, I suppose it came off as a list of things I’m not doing well enough.

    So, I thought it was worth a second post to highlight some of the things I learned and did with my rookie year.

    As I wrote in my self-evaluation, I’m a much more confident and competent reporter today than a year ago. In my first year, I took on some stories I’d rather have gone my whole career without experiencing, like writing about a 6-year-old girl killed on her way to school. I also worked on a few that I’m still kind of amazed we actually pulled off, like getting the name and some details on a very tight-lipped closed search for a new superintendent weeks before the board was ready to talk. Those are the two stories that most stick out in my mind for year one. (They were also the two my editor highlighted, so I suppose I wasn’t way off.)

    I also tackled some things I thought I’d never write about, including writing about bank robberies, child molestation charges and a prostitution sting, to name a few. I realized I am very much not the reporter who thrives on cops/crime news. In fact, I very much dislike those stories, even if they are a necessary evil. Yet, because they were thrust upon me, I proved to myself that even at my most uncomfortable, even when I have absolutely no idea what the heck I am doing, somehow, I can think on my feet and get it done. That’s probably the most important thing I learned in year one: confidence that I can cover anything. I remember that prostitution story for one reason, and that’s because it was the first time I talked to the sheriff. Without even thinking, I started firing questions as they came to me. Because we had never spoken before, he stopped me and asked, “Are you new?” I replied honestly that I’d been here a month or so. He welcomed me and commented that I must be good because, “You ask all the right questions.” Score one for flying by the seat of my pants.

    As far as reporting, I wrote more enterprise stories than weeks in the year, which, for those keeping score at home, is a lot. I learned more than anybody needs to know about teacher contracts as districts and unions clashed again and again this year. (Thankfully, most of them settled for two or three years.) I’m still working on my mastery of the state/school budget process, but spent enough time pestering officials for a primer that I at least understand how to calculate the impact of those numbers on the average tax payer. Along the way, I also wrestled with some ethical questions, which required me to not only consult my conscience, but to lean back on a professor or two. I also, perhaps most importantly, got to have some fun with stories, including ones about teens texting while driving and first-graders learning about geography from the Wii.

    Considering I don’t want to be a beat reporter my whole career, I was also glad to be involved in several new ventures. My editor says it’s because I’m willing to speak up and stay engaged and offer constructive feedback and fresh ideas that I got these opportunities. I’m still figuring it was luck. We launched a new schools page, which I like to call my weekly pain in the — you get the idea. But the teachers and principals love it. I like it because it’s a place for things that otherwise would fall between the cracks to find a home. But it still needs work, and I need to find my rhythm. We also launched our first high school micro-site. It, too, still needs work. But the fact that we got anywhere with it still amazes me. And I still see so much potential there once we work it all out. Finally, my invite to the table for the New Product Development committee. There are some very exciting things on the horizon this year, and I love that I get to offer my thoughts, ideas and perspective to a group that is kind of steering the future of the company. I’m both exhilarated and humbled by the mere invitation to be part of that group.

    All in all, I would say I look back on my first year as a positive start. When I consider how unhappy many of my peers are at their first jobs or the less than positive experiences I’ve heard about from too many people, I am thankful for a year like the one I had. Sure, there are things I need to improve. God help me when I don’t realize that or think otherwise. But overall, I think I had an pretty OK year. Now that the basics are down, it’s time to find my pace, my place and my purpose.

    And, I promise, I won’t forget to have fun.

    Report card, report card, what did we get?

    Monday, January 14th, 2008

    I meant to note this before, when we got the news a few weeks back, but I got caught up in other things and well now there’s a convenient column from the publisher summing up the highlights of the report card the J&C received.

    Overall? It’s hella good news for any newspaper (and its subsidiaries, which is probably the wrong word) to be growing readership these days. Here’s what he says:

    Publishers, editors, online directors and all of our employees receive another report card every few years.

    That report card is the results of independent market research on readership of the print Journal & Courier, jconline and reader answers to questions about their satisfaction with our news coverage.

    So, I figured losing a few percentage points in print market reach would be a major victory in a time when many newspapers are losing much more ground than that. Maybe, just maybe, we could come close to making up those print losses with our surging Internet site — jconline.

    So we were stunned when we got our report card.

    Readership of the newspaper each day was up slightly from our last research in 2005. Seven-day readership of our newspaper (the percent of the market reading our paper at least once each week) was up slightly to 75 percent.

    On top of that, our reach of the local market though jconline each week had grown to an impressive 31 percent.

    I expected growth in this area, but not to that extent. In fact, the market reach of jconline is No. 1 in the entire Gannett Company (owners of the Journal & Courier). Total combined print and online reach had increased to 82 percent each week.

    The researchers told us that reader satisfaction with our coverage of local news and other topics is high, well above most newspapers our size.

    They also told us that readers’ reaction to the new newspaper was overwhelmingly favorable.

    There’s more. Even more than he wrote in the column. But even without anything else, that’s impressive and happy news. As one of my profs noted when I was home this weekend about the fact that they bought a new press: “It’s a good sign that they’re investing money in your paper.”

    And as I told another friend when I forwarded her a job opening here. Those numbers don’t just mean we’re doing a good job reaching our audience, which is true apparently. They also mean something else vital: job security. (OK, I know no job is “secure,” but I’d rather be at a paper that’s growing and making progress than, well, anywhere else.)